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a taste (of what it's like to be next to you)

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[The constellation ‘Prisoner of the Golden Headband’ can’t hide his joy at your victory.]

[10,000 coins have been sponsored.]

The incarnations who saw Kim Dokja’s victory looked at each other incredulously.

“The Salvation leader lost!”

“Who is that incarnation?”

“Wait a minute, that face, that…!”

Someone pointed at him and shouted, “The ugliest king!”

Again with that… Am I really that ugly? Is that why Yoo Jonghyuk was staring at my face earlier?

Speaking of Yoo Jonghyuk… Kim Dokja turned around to find that Yoo Jonghyuk was released from his paralysis and could be seen stumbling in the distance. This sunfish bastard, he didn’t help when it was important. Though Kim Dokja thought that, there was the undeniable sound of worry as he grabbed onto Yoo Jonghyuk’s arm to help support him.

“Hey, are you okay?”

Yoo Jonghyuk held his head like he had a headache and asked, “The reincarnator?”

“He fled.”

“Pathetic. Did you miss him?”

Kim Dokja didn’t let Yoo Jonghyuk’s obvious attempt to change the topic slide, raking his eyes over the other’s body. “Do you have the right to say something like that? Answer me, are you okay?”

Yoo Jonghyuk’s expression was serious. “We have to quickly chase him. His purpose isn’t to clear the scenario.”

“Hey, do you hear my concern? That skill of his is no joke, especially to someone like you…”

The regressor ignored him, looking at the mess left behind by the fight. “If you don’t catch the reincarnator before the 10th scenario ends, Seoul will…”

He had no patience after spending all that energy in the battle. He quickly became fed up with Yoo Jonghyuk continuously avoiding his eyes. Kim Dokja put away Unbroken Faith and grabbed Yoo Jonghyuk’s face in both hands, forcing the man to look at him. “Yoo Jonghyuk. Look at me.”

Yoo Jonghyuk stopped shifting around, but still stared resolutely at the spot right above Kim Dokja’s head and grunted. “I’m fine. We need to—”

“I’ll believe you once you meet my eyes.”

Instead of doing that, Yoo Jonghyuk closed his eyes and sighed as if he was frustrated. “Kim Dokja. I don’t have time for your antics.”

But Kim Dokja has known Yoo Jonghyuk for over a decade, for over a thousand regressions, and he knows that if Yoo Jonghyuk was trying this hard to avoid looking at someone’s face, it means he’s hiding something. He remembers reading about it somewhere in the middle of the novel when the reason Yoo Jonghyuk would avoid eye contact was revealed: he didn’t want his companions to see his eyes shake. It made Kim Dokja yearn to be the first to be allowed to see it in this regression.

Instead, he sighs and lets go of the regressor’s face, taking a few steps backward. His palms remain warm. “Fine. Be like that then.” I won’t try again another time. It’s not like he trusts me that much.

At Kim Dokja’s curt reply, Yoo Jonghyuk subtly flinches. He looks a bit guilty, but before the conversation can continue, they’re interrupted.

[The constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ belatedly regained her spirit.]

[The constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ wants to explain why she came here.]

At Uriel’s words, Yoo Jonghyuk and Kim Dokja looked up at the air simultaneously.

[The constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ needs your help.]

Uriel was Jung Heewon’s sponsor. Uriel, who was supposed to be with Jung Heewon, came all the way here and contact with Jung Heewon was broken. This meant…

“Min Jiwon-ssi. Do you know where Jung Heewon-ssi is?”

However, Min Jiwon was still unconscious. This wouldn’t work.

“Yoo Jonghyuk, defend me.”

“What?”




 

 

After Kim Dokja said that, he closed his eyes and went still. Yoo Jonghyuk was uneasy with the sudden command, and cried out in alarm when Kim Dokja suddenly fell forward. “Kim Dokja!”

It was as if the man had fallen asleep in a second. Yoo Jonghyuk rushed forward to catch the unconscious man in his arms. He shook the man in white, but his eyelids didn’t even flutter, head flopping to land in the crook of Yoo Jonghyuk’s neck. It was almost like he was dead, but the steady breaths he could feel against his collarbone eased his worries. Not that he would admit he was worried. This must have been Kim Dokja’s skill, considering he had asked Yoo Jonghyuk to defend him before collapsing.

[The constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ is applauding this camaraderie.]

[The constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ has sponsored 1000 coins.]

Still, the longer the man lay still in his arms, the more anxious Yoo Jonghyuk became. He tried to distract himself by focusing on the feeling of Kim Dokja in his arms. Which was a huge miscalculation on his part.

The two were still standing up, so Kim Dokja’s entire weight was leaning against him and he could feel all the curves that were hidden underneath the coat he always wore , but it wasn’t a big problem considering how light the other man was. Just like his unscarred skin, Kim Dokja’s lithe physique didn’t match the amount of work he had put into the scenarios. If Yoo Jonghyuk squeezed his arms—which were around Kim Dokja’s lower and upper back for appropriate support—he could probably break the man’s spine like snapping a malnourished twig (but he’d rather hold him gently, like a lover would) . In fact, does Kim Dokja eat enough? He was busy making the swords in Peace Land while the rest of them were partying, and only stole a bite of Yoo Jonghyuk’s cooking. He felt a late regret at not shoving more food down the fool’s throat considering how much his eyes had lit up when he tasted Jonghyuk’s.

“Ugh…” Kim Dokja let out a soft groan of pain.

Kim Dokja’s breathing became more labored. Due to how they were almost molded together, it was easy to pick up. Yoo Jonghyuk gently moved him so he could peek at his face. Another miscalculation. 

Unlike earlier, when Yoo Jonghyuk was staring at Kim Dokja’s face to decide if the title “Ugliest King” fit, Kim Dokja’s eyes were closed, the man not awake to make that annoying smirk at him. It looked almost peaceful if not for the furrow between his brows. For a man who was nearing his 30s, his face was surprisingly youthful; only the bags that seemed to be permanently underneath his eyes making him look his age. His eyelashes were absurdly long, fanning over the top of his cheeks, still flushed from exertion from the fight that ended not too long ago. His pink lips were slightly parted, soft puffs of air leaving them. 

He wanted to touch them, to see if they were just as soft as the rest of Kim Dokja’s face. 

Yoo Jonghyuk couldn’t even feel the residual panic from the Eternal Nightmare he was put under, too enamored with analyzing his companion’s facial features to forever file away in his mind. He thinks that even if he regressed another time, a dozen more times, a hundred more times—he wouldn’t forget Kim Dokja’s face.

[The constellation ‘Secretive Plotter’ asks what you are doing.]

At the familiar name, Yoo Jonghyuk breaks out of his reverie and scowls. He doesn’t know why, but the Secretive Plotter always rubbed him the wrong way. “None of your business.”

[The constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ admonishes the constellation ‘Secretive Plotter’, saying they shouldn’t interrupt bonding time.]

[The constellation ‘Secretive Plotter’ reminds the constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ about the reason she asked for help.]

[The constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ feels admonished.]

“Cough!”

Suddenly, Kim Dokja coughs in his arms, and Yoo Jonghyuk immediately tears his eyes away from the bickering stars to Kim Dokja. His eyelids fluttered open, those long lashes moving with them. He seems to take a moment to gain his bearings before realizing he had collapsed right into Yoo Jonghyuk’s arms.

He coughs again, face flushing, bringing his legs back underneath him to leave the hold and put a respectable distance between them. Yoo Jonghyuk regretfully lets him. “What did you do?”

“...Nirvana got to Jung Heewon. She and Lee Hyunsung are in danger.”

Yoo Jonghyuk narrows his eyes. He should’ve paid more attention to Jung Heewon since she wasn’t in his previous regressions. Maybe he should have taken care of her earlier, but she was someone Kim Dokja had taken under his wing, and that man would not have let Yoo Jonghyuk do that. And Yoo Jonghyuk had become alarmingly docile with this strange man who appeared out of nowhere, and he wouldn’t have done something that could have made their relationship irreparable. 

“...So what now? Where are they?”

Kim Dokja shook his head. “They’re too far away for us to get there in time. We need to have a different plan…”

As he spoke, his eyes widened like he had a revelation. His eyes snapped to Yoo Jonghyuk’s, crowding into his personal space yet again. “Hey, hit me now. A really strong one.”

Slightly flustered at how close their faces were all of a sudden, Yoo Jonghyuk had a delay before responding. “…What?”

Then Kim Dokja said something that made his blood freeze. “No, kill me now.”




 

Yoo Jonghyuk doesn’t know exactly how much time passed before he couldn’t wait anymore. He had meant to listen to Kim Dokja’s request, but at the last moment he couldn’t do it. His punch had been thrown at Kim Dokja’s gut with the intention to rip through every single one of his internal organs when he was suddenly taken back to the memory of the first time he had seen Kim Dokja die.

Due to Yoo Jonghyuk’s arrogance, the Disaster of Floods had nearly killed him. He was supposed to die there, but Kim Dokja had screamed ‘get out of the way Yoo Jonghyuk!’ and took the hit for him. He remembered the sight of Kim Dokja’s dying body, belly split open with a wound so large even Lee Seolhwa wouldn’t have been able to heal it.

Kim Dokja had asked Yoo Jonghyuk to kill him then too, even as he was desperately trying to stop the bleeding. It was a futile task, and though Yoo Jonghyuk refused to kill him, Kim Dokja died anyway.

This time, Yoo Jonghyuk couldn’t do it. He threw the punch but decreased the power at the very last moment. It was still strong enough to cause Kim Dokja to fall unconscious, but not enough to kill him. 

[The constellation ‘Secretive Plotter’ is scoffing at your resolve.]

This damn constellation is annoying. Yoo Jonghyuk thought, frown deepening when he read the notification. For some reason though, he thought that the Secretive Plotter was secretly relieved at Yoo Jonghyuk’s choice, considering both him and Sun Wukong sponsored him coins.

Now, an unspecified amount of time later, Yoo Jonghyuk threw another punch, anxious to see Kim Dokja’s eyes open and glinting with mischief at a perfectly executed plan, or annoyance at whatever thing Yoo Jonghyuk did that wasn’t a part of it. 

It took a bit before Kim Dokja’s eyes fluttered open. They were hazy and unfocused, probably confused due to being punched awake after being punched unconscious. Yoo Jonghyuk spared a moment to feel bad about abusing his companion’s stomach like this, but to be fair he was the one who had been punched with the fist of 100 strength during the battle for the Absolute Throne. This was just… retribution.

But even after Kim Dokja awoke, he didn’t say a word. Not even to yell at Yoo Jonghyuk for hurting him.

“Kim Dokja, are you dead?” Yoo Jonghyuk hurriedly asked. Since Kim Dokja was still disoriented, he didn’t hear the undercurrent of concern and fear from that question. Those unfocused eyes slowly turned to look at him.

“Kim Dokja.” He said again, tightening his grip on Kim Dokja’s shoulders. All Kim Dokja did was blink slowly at him from where he lay on the ground. Yoo Jonghyuk’s mind went into overdrive with fear.

「 …I made a mistake. I must have hit him too hard. 」

He moved his eyes down to Kim Dokja’s stomach; it wasn’t bleeding but maybe he accidentally burst some blood vessels beneath the skin, or crushed a vital organ. Yoo Jonghyuk’s mind went into overdrive with anxiety, unaware that Kim Dokja was listening to his every thought. If he had known Kim Dokja was reading his feelings as if he had worn his heart on his sleeve, he probably would have killed himself or Kim Dokja to save him from the embarrassment. It may have been better for Kim Dokja to keep his skill a secret.

「 I shouldn’t have done that. Without Kim Dokja, I... 」

Even Yoo Jonghyuk didn’t know his own emotions; his thoughts were jumbled and confused, most left unfinished.

「 It is different from what I know in the earlier regressions. The amount of information available is too limited. I can’t save the world like this. Not without... 」

「 The reason I was hurt by the Salvation Church was because we spent too much time in the last round. It was a mistake to train for 100 years then. My mind was permanently damaged. 」

「 Maybe it was a mistake not to get the Absolute Throne.  」

「 I will start from the beginning again… 」

He didn’t notice Kim Dokja’s eyes widen in fear.

「 But if I start again, will he still... 」

He was dragged out of his whirlpool of emotions when Kim Dokja cried out, “I’m hurt you jerk!”

Yoo Jonghyuk’s head turned over to look at the man so quickly it was a miracle there wasn’t an audible sound of his neck snapping. His eyes that were just shaking steadied the longer he looked at Kim Dokja. There was a moment of silence where neither said a word, the regressor taking his time observing the now-conscious Kim Dokja. He then spoke in a subdued voice. “...You are the one who wanted me to kill you. Is the matter resolved?”

“Roughly. The urgent fire has been put out.”

It wasn’t a promising declaration. Yoo Jonghyuk’s expression remained stony until Kim Dokja touched his stomach, wincing a bit. He attempted to sit up from his position on the rough ground, wheezing softly in pain, and Yoo Jonghyuk immediately helped him. “Your stomach. Is it fine?”

Kim Dokja waved his hand in the air lazily. “I’m in one piece. Jeez, I asked you to kill me, not bruise all my insides.”

It was said like a joke to lighten the mood, but Yoo Jonghyuk’s face dropped. 

“...I couldn’t do it.” Yoo Jonghyuk admitted. Kim Dokja looked at him in surprise, not expecting that response.

“Why?” He seemed genuinely baffled, like he didn’t realize how much weight his life had on Yoo Jonghyuk. It was such a heavy burden to bear that Jonghyuk felt it was slowly crushing him. If he no longer had Kim Dokja— “I won’t really die, you know? You can’t get rid of me that easily.”

It eased his heart a bit to know Kim Dokja had an escape plan, but Yoo Jonghyuk didn’t want to see him die again if possible. It was too much to see his companion’s lifeless face another time. The death from the Disaster of Floods had already been added to Yoo Jonghyuk’s long list of nightmares, playing on repeat whenever he slept, except in his dreams Kim Dokja never got up again. That fool was cheating death too many times; one of these days he worried Kim Dokja would get unlucky and fate would take him away from Yoo Jonghyuk forever. He wanted to keep Kim Dokja by his side until he took his last breath.

Instead of saying that though, he grunted. “Hm. What did you do to Jung Heewon and Lee Hyunsung?” 

After a brief explanation that he barely paid attention to, the half-hearted Yoo Jonghyuk nodded with a gloomy expression. “That is what happened. Then what are you going to do now?”

“I haven’t decided yet but the situation is very optimistic.”

“The woman called Yoo Sangah is important to you so you must be desperate to find her first.” It left a sour taste on his tongue as he said that. He remembered what he saw happen between them before they left for Peace Land. He remembered seeing them lean in and then he stormed off without watching it go any further, not sure why he was so angry in the first place. “Was she caught by the Salvation leader?”

“Maybe. Sangah-ssi can take care of herself.” Kim Dokja didn’t seem too alarmed about his lover possibly being in the clutches of one of the most dangerous people in the scenarios. 

“She could be waiting for you.” Yoo Jonghyuk pressed further, wanting to—what? Get confirmation of who his companion was dating?

“Why? She has many strong people backing her. It’s not like we are especially close. In any case, I am hopeful about the situation.”

Not close? Were they not together? Then why did they kiss? And why was he so relieved? “…What is so hopeful about it?”

“Jonghyuk, we can save the world. Don’t you know?”

Yoo Jonghyuk paused, staring directly at Kim Dokja, heart thudding in his chest. “What are you talking about?”

Then Kim Dokja gives him his trademark unlucky smile, eyes crinkling beautifully. “Together, we can save the world. Isn’t that how these stories go?”

...

...

...

Yoo Jonghyuk stayed quiet for perhaps too long since Kim Dokja began sweating uncomfortably under his gaze. His eyes moved away from Yoo Jonghyuk and instead down at himself and rubbed his sore body with a light sigh. Yoo Jonghyuk couldn’t take it anymore. “Kim Dokja.”

“Hm?”

“Take off your shirt.”

[6,900 coins have been sponsored.]

“Sure. Wait, huh?” Kim Dokja must have given the okay before the words registered in his head, but by then it was too late. Yoo Jonghyuk’s calloused hands were already unbuttoning his shirt. “Yoo Jonghyuk?!”

His hands were hurriedly grabbed to stop their movements, and Yoo Jonghyuk slid his eyes to  look at Kim Dokja’s flushed face, raising an eyebrow. “What?”

“What do you mean what!” Kim Dokja burst out, face heating up even more when Yoo Jonghyuk continued to unbutton his shirt despite the resistance (Kim Dokja was not very strong). “Why are you undressing me?!”

[The constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ arrives belatedly.]

[The constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ is screaming.]

[The constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ is choking.]

[The constellation ‘Prisoner of the Golden Headband’ is wondering if he should send the constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ an ambulance.]

[The constellation ‘Secretive Plotter’ tells him not to bother.]

[The constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ is forcibly calming herself down.]

[The constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ says incarnation Yoo Jonghyuk is trying to help you.]

“Help?! With what?! I don’t need help taking off my shirt!” Kim Dokja sputtered. His slender hands were trying to halt Yoo Jonghyuk’s movements as they managed to get the top third of his shirt open. Since they were both still on the ground, he couldn’t just walk away unless he wanted to scoot away on his butt. “Hey, Yoo Jonghyuk! Explain to me first— ow, ow, ow—”

All movements stop as Kim Dokja’s struggling causes him to accidentally put too much pressure on his aching belly, making him to fold into himself as he holds his stomach and pushes Yoo Jonghyuk’s hands away from the buttons. At least that action keeps the rest of his shirt from being opened up. Yoo Jonghyuk narrows his eyes at the low pained wheezing, instead resting a hand on the back of his neck; ready to grab him if he decided to bolt. “Stop fighting me.”

Kim Dokja stares at him incredulously from under his eyelashes. “I’m not just going to let you strip me without an explanation!”

Yoo Jonghyuk releases a low growl that usually makes people listen to him without question or flee, but Kim Dokja has never been scared of him. It’s annoying. “You are hurt.”

“Yeah, I know that , but what does that have to do with taking my shirt off?”

“Are you dense? How else do I get to your stomach? Shall I reach down through your skull since there doesn’t seem to be anything there?”

Kim Dokja bristles at the insult, but he seems to be more surprised at the fact that Yoo Jonghyuk is really trying to help him. “...But you don’t even have anything to give me?”

He gives a deadpan look as a reply. “Do you think I can’t afford simple medical items? I am not poor either.” As if to prove it, he opens the Dokkaebi Bag and purchases a high end medical salve (it was already on special on the home page, the dokkaebi database was scary). Now with the item clearly in his hand, he raises an eyebrow at Kim Dokja as if to say ‘now what are you going to complain about?’

An eyebrow twitches in response. “...Thank you, but I can do it myself. You don’t have to take my clothes off in public. ” He hisses the last part under his breath, eyes darting around them to the crowd that hasn’t dispersed yet, drawn to the loud yells he let out before. One look from Yoo Jonghyuk had them all turning away from them, pretending like they didn’t see anything. One incarnation even starts whistling a tune as he swerves away like a cartoon character. Another was subtly trying to take a picture while pretending she wasn’t. 

Kim Dokja curls further into himself in shame and, hiding his pained wince, tries to button the few buttons Yoo Jonghyuk managed to separate in a hurry. Yoo Jonghyuk tsk -ed again, swatting the hands away and buttoning them himself, seemingly giving in to Kim Dokja’s will for once. “You’re buttoning them in the wrong place.”

“And whose fault is it that my buttons are open in the first place?”

“If you weren’t being so stubborn, this whole ordeal would have been over already. Now we’re back where we began, with nothing accomplished.” He finishes buttoning Kim Dokja’s shirt, feeling the man shiver whenever his fingers accidentally brush against his bare skin. He can see that the red flush has reached even the top of his chest.

“Oh my god, Yoo Jonghyuk, unless I’m dying I’m not going to let you take my clothes off.”

[The constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ asks if you are sure about that.]

“Please be quiet and go check on your incarnation…” Kim Dokja sighs, exasperated with the archangel.

[The constellation ‘Demon-like Judge of Fire’ laughs and thanks you sincerely for your help.]

Then the indirects from her stop, so Yoo Jonghyuk assumes she’s gone back to Jung Heewon. Kim Dokja taps him on the shoulder, drawing his attention back. “Hey, help me up.”

Yoo Jonghyuk’s eyes narrow but he complies without complaint, wrapping an arm under Kim Dokja’s shoulders and allowing the smaller man to lean on him once they stood upright. Min Jiwon, who hadn’t wanted to disturb them, finally interrupted. She had a startled expression on her face as she said, “The two of you are quite familiar with each other.”

What she really wanted to say was ‘what the FU—’ as she watched them practically cuddle, but she quite liked her head attached to her shoulders. So instead of teasing them, she simply watched with wide eyes as Yoo Jonghyuk kept his arm around Kim Dokja’s waist as the man was still injured—acting as his own personalized crutch. Yoo Jonghyuk didn’t even spare a glance towards Min Jiwon, instead using all of his focus to make sure his companion wasn’t uncomfortable.

“I’m a friendly person. By the way, are you okay?”

“…Thanks to you. I almost joined the Salvation Church.” The sheer absurdity of watching the two men act like an old married couple was also like having an ice bucket dumped on her head. 

“King of Beauty, I think I need some help.” Seriously, did these people not realize how lovey-dovey they were being right now? She felt like she needed to lie down. “Min Jiwon-ssi?”

“Huh? Oh! Of course, I will do what I can to help. But what about your treatment? I don’t think you managed to do anything earlier when you…” She trailed off as Kim Dokja’s face flamed red in embarrassment.

“T-That can be continued behind closed doors ,” Kim Dokja directed that last part at Yoo Jonghyuk who did not seem to care at all, “and it’s not very serious. I’d rather find the rest of my party members first.”

“Of course.” Min Jiwon replied, trying extremely hard to keep her face in order as the words ‘closed doors’ echoed in her head on repeat. She… really misunderstood them before. She and everyone around her thought they had a hostile relationship, but apparently it was just how they treated each other. She herself also wasn’t unfamiliar with those types of couples, so she should have seen this one coming since the sexual tension between them was insane during the Absolute Throne battle. Huh… Who knew.

She smiled brightly at the two, swearing to herself to help clear up the bad rumors about their relationship as best as she could. Kim Dokja, who returned the smile innocently, had no idea what just went through her mind, and was completely unaware of just how crazy the rumors about the two were going to be very soon.